Covid-19: Not enough studies in Africa - scientist leading SA's first vaccine trial

  • Prominent scientist Professor Shabir Madhi is of the view that there aren't enough clinical trials in Africa.
  • Madhi said there was absolutely no interest on the part of the University of Oxford to search out South Africa to do a vaccine study.
  • He pointed out that South Africans themselves approached the University of Oxford to include the country in the clinical development plan.


The prominent scientist leading South Africa's first Covid-19 vaccine trial, Professor Shabir Madhi, says there should rather be a discussion on the fact that not enough studies are being done in Africa, instead of criticism about "possibly using Africans as guinea pigs".

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Africa, he pointed out, constitutes 17% of the world population.

"The criticism right now should not be about possibly using Africans as guinea pigs. We need to understand that less than 2.5% of all clinical trials that are done globally are done in Africa - which constitutes 17% of the world population.

"If anything, there [aren't] enough clinical trials being done in Africa to understand how therapeutics, including vaccines, work [in an] African context because there is very little financial incentive on [the] part of industry to actually conduct these sort of studies in Africa," Madhi said in a virtual briefing on Thursday.

He added that the discussion needed to be flipped on its head because "there [aren't] enough studies being done in Africa to inform us as to how well these therapeutics, including vaccines, would work in the local context."

Madhi was a panellist on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa online press briefing on Covid-19 and vaccine development in Africa.

READ | Wits announces SA's first Covid-19 vaccine trial, first participants to be enrolled this week

The Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, who is the director of the South Africa Medical Research Council Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit, is leading South Africa's first Covid-19 vaccine trial. Two thousand participants are to be enrolled as part of the trial, which aims to find the vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 infection, which is the virus that causes Covid-19.

"The timing on when we would get results [on the vaccine] would be sooner. The reason for that is due to the really high rate of transmission that is currently occurring in South Africa.

"So, we would be able to determine whether the vaccine works when we've approximately got up to 42 cases of Covid-19 that has occurred in participants and we anticipate that this would likely occur in November or December this year," he said.

Professor Shabir Madhi
Professor Shabir Madhi

Madhi added that South Africans themselves approached the University of Oxford to include the country as part of the clinical development plan.

"To clarify... there was absolutely no interest on the part of the University of Oxford to search out South Africa to do a vaccine study. In fact it was South Africans who approached the University of Oxford to determine whether they would be willing to include South Africa as part of the clinical development plan.

"The funding of the study is also not coming from the University of Oxford, but rather from the South African Medical Research Council and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation," he said.

On 9 July, South Africa had 238 339 positive cases of Covid-19, 113 061 recoveries and 3 720 deaths.

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